105: £10,027 for a plastics clinical fellow

On the 17th January I was back at Derriford Hospital for a post surgery check with Mr X and Sue the BCN.  The free flap DIEP reconstruction had taken place in the previous July and despite thinking I would never stand up straight again, would never bend, lie on my side or be “normal”… 7 months on I could do all of the above and more.  I was able to go to pilates, spin, was back at work full time.  When I caught sight of myself getting changed or dried the toob looked pretty good – there was no nipple and the circular scar made of my tummy which might be an areola eventually did remind me slightly of a pig’s snout minus the nostrils.

I’m a trustee of the Primrose Foundation and I take my responsibilities seriously. I read the papers sent to me and I look carefully at the applications for funding.  One such application was for a bursary for training for a fellow to join the oncoplastics team.  The application was for £10,000.  I spoke to the D2 ladies and we agreed that we would like our fundraising to support.  This is what was on the the Primrose Foundation web site wrote:

A new £10,000 bursary for the newly appointed Plastic Clinical fellow with a specialist interest in Breast reconstruction which has recently been developed within the Plastic & reconstructive surgical directorate at University Hospitals Plymouth. 

This post will play a vital role to anyone who requires breast reconstruction after breast cancer and means that patients will now be offered free flap breast reconstruction as an option.

So when I saw Mr X with the pigs snout I told him that the D2 ladies would like to ensure that the money we raised at the second D2 ball would support the fellowship to ensure that more women in the Plymouth area would have access to a free flap/DIEP reconstruction.  The next step was to arrange the cheque presentation.  This was arranged at the Duke of Cornwall – afternoon tea with a variety of options from vegan to full fat.  It was a lovely afternoon, jolly, fun and a way to celebrate how we had managed to work together over two years to raise over £23,000 – something quite extraordinary for 9 women who’d never raised money like this before. The funds also support.. a new quiet room refurbishment and a clinical psychologist to help women who are thinking of a reconstruction.

4 pigs snout

104: The Jar of Joy

January 2020… new year, new decade, new term and revitalised after a couple of weeks off.  Many things to be grateful for and not a time for resolutions… except… I follow Liz O’Riordan on Twitter.  Liz is a Breast Surgeon with recurrent breast cancer who has written the complete guide to breast cancer and has a really interesting take on this disease as she has been both sides of the desk and diagnosis.  I saw her Ted Talk  about her “jar of joy”… a brilliant and simple idea to help keep life in perspective and to find something positive everyday.  This is it:  Ted Talk

So I have adopted her idea and have two jars.. one for home and one for school.  The jars once held huge olives from Lidl… something to be joyful for straight away as the olives had to be eaten first.   A very simple premise… all you require is one jar, one set of post it notes and a positive frame of mind. Even on the darkest days there will be something that I can find joy in.  Some days are harder than others… but a good cup of coffee, finishing a piece of work, a cracking NQT observation or just getting to the weekend. 3 Jan 2020

103: Christmas & New Year so be of good cheer.

A picture paints a thousand words…reportedly first used by Frederick R. Barnard in Printer’s Ink (December, 1921), while commenting that graphics can tell a story as effectively as a large amount of descriptive text.  So these images sum up Christmas and New Year with family and friends – lots of smiles and laughter, a large Sandy shaped hole and a new family dynamic but great to have everyone home.   These photos don’t include visits to the movies to see Cats (I enjoyed it!), Little Women (enjoyed this more), trips to Totnes on the train, mince pies and mulled wine party and a letter saying the mammogram was clear.  It was all good.

102. The run up to 2020

Today life is in perspective, the hail has stopped and the sun is out.

The run up to the new decade had highs and lows.  Family highs, when we got together, and family lows when relatives had to return home.  Dad’s funeral was over, it had been a cracking send off and he’d have been proud.  There was about a month between the funeral and Christmas so it was back to work and start a new normal – I was a single parent person now.

The run up to Christmas in school is wearisome if you are in your mid 50s, grieving and trying to pretend everything is fine.  There is the excitement about the forthcoming holiday, the anticipation of getting the right or best presents for everyone, ensuring the feast is suitably festive and ensuring that lessons are still being taught, students are engaged, colleagues are well.  It is exhausting and everyone looks and feels a bit run down by the end of term.  I was running on empty, trying to be the most efficient woman at school, attempting to fit in pilates and spin, busy, busy, busy… not time to think, no time to process. The human body can take a lot… mine had had enough as I had a huge cold sore and looked ghastly.   I’d also had my second annual mammogram care of the Primrose Breast Care Centre… always a time of unease, not the mammogram itself but waiting for the results.  The clinic was not too busy, it was efficient, the radiographer friendly and recognised me as a trustee.  It was all perfunctory and the right boob was in place soon enough, the radiographer wasn’t happy with the first set of images and so we repeated the process… better to be safe than sorry.  I chatted away about the Primrose charity, the ball, la la la la la la… not about being squished and wondered… if breast cancer comes back where will the make a new boob from.. nothing left on my tummy! (I’ve decided it won’t come back… if it does it will be a secondary form and it won’t manifest it self in my right boob… but it won’t… come on, cut me some slack… it won’t – despite that little voice at 3am saying “actually it is just lying in wait and when you’ve finished the drugs in 7.5 years it will pounce”.  It had better not or I really will be cross.

However, there was a lot to look forward to as my eldest son Marcus and his wife, Marie were flying in on the last day of term and they were going to be here for a week to ten days.  Our Aussie friends – my great “fiend” Antonia, were going to be over for Christmas with their family and down here for New Year.  Usually, I would have said “stay with us” but I didn’t know how long the kids were going to be home for and other friends had offered to have them to stay and do New Year’s Eve.

The 20th December was the end of term, it was Christmas Jumper day at my school and I was resplendent in a completely hideous, polyester red jacket with Santa plastered all over it.  Most of the staff and many of the students also dressed up and the feeling was festive.  The deal was that lessons were to be taught as usual for most of the morning and then the final period was spent with tutors.  Whist Christmas is a time of celebration for most it is also a time of high anxiety for other students.  School offers sanctuary, it ensures there is a meal and warmth, friendship, someone to talk to if there is a problem who might be able to solve that issue and make going home just a bit better. The students finished at lunchtime and we had a staff get together to say farewell to those leaving, to  say “we’ve made it” to the end of term.  This was a bit rich from me as I’d only been back at school since 1st November so had done less than 50% compared to my colleagues – I didn’t have the right to be as run down as them.

As soon as decent I packed up and rushed home… the house was empty, this was not right as Marcus and Marie should have been there.  Their bags were here but they had gone for a walk to get a breath of air after their overnight flight from Seattle and journey from Heathrow.    I was a bit disappointed but got over myself when I saw them.  Phoebe was home too and later that afternoon mum was coming round so that we could go to the Primrose Carol Service.

The year before I had been one of the speakers at the service and this year I was part of the congregation or audience.  Just as well as we arrived late due to my inability to read the time on the web site.  Parking was an interesting experience and we snuck into the back of the church.  This comes from the Primrose Facebook site “The Stanborough Chorus and both the choirs from Holy Cross & The Cathedral school who brought the Christmas magic to the Cathedral and made the whole evening a truly festive and beautiful event. In total we raised over £1,000”.  It was lovely and made Christmas seem real.  Mr X was one of the readers, my lovely friend Joy who now works at the Primrose Breast Care Centre also read, the school choirs were great, the Stanborough Choir amazing, the church was beautiful (and the heating was on!) and mum, Phoebe and I sang with great gusto – we are on the right of the photo on the back row.  The holiday had begun.Xmas Service Primrose

1 m christmas jacket



101. A Fair Isle Cardigan (an emotional bomb)

It is half term, the weather is dreich, there have been huge storms, large parts of the UK are under water and last night a lightening strike hit a house a couple of miles away and the roof caught fire.  Locusts in Africa, fires in Australia, flooding here… it feels a bit apocalyptic..

I haven’t written about Christmas, New Year or my new nipple yet and I suppose a blog doesn’t have to be chronological although for my ordered, non blue sky, way of thinking it should be.

Today I helped my mum (Sheena) sort out my dad’s (Sandy) belongings.  It was a family affair, Nick brought his tool kit to do some minor repairs to  a bathroom cabinet, Phoebe came to for support, Sheena had bought chocolate biscuits and I was supposed to bring bags for life (odd really given today’s job) to help sort Sandy’s clothes and I’d forgotten them.  When we arrived at the flat mum had already made a start and was a little distressed.  When I saw dad’s Fair Isle cardigan hanging up in the wardrobe I too became distressed.  This red, white and blue cardi, which was one of his favourites had become an “emotional bomb”.  I have stolen this term for a lady on Twitter who has just cleared her dad’s garage.  The morning was punctuated by rain outside and a tsunami of tears in, all I could say was “oh dear….”

We made a start.  Nick retreated to the bathroom then to an electrical shop to buy the bits make good the repair.  Phoebe, mum and I went through the wardrobe and sorted clothes into – charity shop donations, items to be sold and items to be kept or handed to specific people.  It was a hard morning as we sifted through a stack of Orvis shirts, a wide variety of clothes, suits, hats, fleeces.  Five bags were to go to St Lukes hospice shop including two large, green Aran sweaters which weighed a tonne (they may have been bought on a cruise holiday around the British Isles).  A couple of bags were sorted of items which could be sold – this was Phoebe’s domain and already she has photographed them, put them on various sites and had some interest in them. The Fair Isle cardigan has remained in the wardrobe with a favourite shirt and jacket.  It wasn’t hard labour it was the emotional bomb as we remembered dad wearing the cardigan as mum said he had really loved it.  He wore it when he was here for Christmas some 14 months ago, his last Christmas with us.

Once we’d cleared the space we then helped mum by sorting her bits and pieces out, moving summer clothes into the new space – the cardigan is there, nestled up against her summer dresses.

My dad is so much more than a cardigan, there are reminders of him everywhere in the flat, in our house, in our city, in me, my children, my brother and his children.  On Friday we pick up dad’s ashes but he is much more than that – physical remains may have diminished but emotional ones still burn bright.  It has been an emotional bomb of a day.

Christmas 2018

100. Muffled drums and the last post

I haven’t written my blog for quite sometime, not since my dad’s funeral.  I think I have thrown myself back into family life, work, preparations for Christmas and being busy is a great diversion to thinking things through, and I use this blog as a way of drawing a line under events, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this as it seems final. However, it is time to write about Dad’s farewell.

When we arrived at Weston Mill Crem there was a sea of Green Berets to meet us.  One of my dad’s great friends was resplendent in tartan trews took mum by the arm and we walked past friends who had taken time out to celebrate dad’s life.  It was comforting to see my own friends too who gave a tender pat on the arm, a squeeze of the arm, a wan smile.  The chapel was packed, there was standing room only and some the mourners waited in the lobby where they could watch the funeral on a TV.

The coffin was resplendent with the Royal Marine Flag, dad’s beret, medals and bouquet of yellow roses.  As we walked in one of dad’s RM friends was beating a muffled drum which gave us the beat to enter in and make our way, past standard bearers with dipped flags and to the front of the chapel.  Trevor introduced the proceedings and welcomed the mourners, very soon my brother and I were invited up to read the Eulogy.  A deep breath and away we went, we read paragraph by paragraph, raised a few smiles, the odd chuckle and I managed to hold it together until the part where I had to speak about how well loved dad was – fortunately my brother could step in.

It was all very moving – we sang hymns, dad’s friends Trevor and Bob read prayers – one to absent brethren and the Royal Marines prayer.  We listened to Royal Marine music and at the end of the service the last post was played  by a Royal Marine bandsman. It was very poignant and everyone was in tears.  The finale was the Corries playing “To the land of Macleod” – the front two rows.. the family… we all sang between the tears as we walked out.

There is a no mans land being in limbo effect immediately after the service.  We were guided out to a patio area and the congregation came through and spoke to us.  So much kindness shown, so much love and respect for dad.

The next evolution was to go to the New Continental for the Wake.  Back in the fast blacks, a sense of relief that the service was over and that it had gone well.  We felt we’d done right by dad, followed the plan of the O group meeting 6 weeks before.  Dad’s wishes had been executed with military precision.

The driver of the fast black, Sean, told us that he too was a former military man and knew dad through the Royal Marines masonic lodge.  He was very sorry for our loss.

We were all very sorry for our loss and that the fight was over.  Dad was now in the Land of Macleod.

I will go, I will go
When the fighting is over
Tae the land of MacLeod
I left to be a soldier
I will go, I will go

The king’s son came along, he called us all together
Saying, Brave Highland men, you will fight for my father
I will go, I will go

I’ve a buckle tae my belt, a sword in my scabbard
A red coat on my back and a shilling in my pocket
I will go, I will go

When they put us all on board the lassies were singing
The tears came to their eyes when they heard the bells a-ringing
I will go, I will go

When we landed on that shore and saw the foreign heather we
We knew some would die and lie there forever
I will go, I will go

When we came back through the glen winter was turning
Our families in the snow and our homes they were burning
I will go, I will go

99. The Fast Blacks

Four and a half weeks after my father died we had the funeral.  This had been pre planned with Dad, after his terminal diagnosis we had an “O group” – a meeting where his great friend Trevor and the family discussed how the funeral was to be carried out.

The run up to the funeral had been frenetic for me.  I have returned to work.  People say “you look well” and I do (as long as I keep my clothes on.. without them it is a different story).  The first couple of weeks have been hard as I have had to meet new classes, put together my class folder so I know who has what additional need and who has to be challenged more, set my alarm for 6.30am and get up, put on my suit and assume the role.  So far so good – no tears at work.

Thursday was a hard day, we had one youngster who was extremely distressed and had to be sent home and I did an observation of one of the newly qualified teachers.  Giving feedback was tough but receiving it must have been much worse.  I had four lessons to cover (where you set work which one of your colleagues can deliver) and to be frank setting cover is harder than going in and teaching.  I had to leave school at 4.30pm to meet mum, my brother and sister in law at 5pm at Pier One.  Great cafe, fabulous views and a real log fire (the views over Plymouth Sound aren’t that great at 5pm in the dark).

There had been a bit of tension between myself and my brother.  He’d been on holiday in the Caribbean and I’d gone back to work, to be frank I was quite resentful as our holidays had disappeared this year due to my rebuild. My resentment was close to the surface but well controlled as my sister in law said it had taken then a good few days to decompress when they joined their cruise ship.  I let it go.  We will have holidays in the future, I’m back at work and love my job.  I’d written and re-written the Eulogy and then my brother sent me his version, which I pinged straight back to him as I didn’t feel it was appropriate. He has his own demons to fight and didn’t need to fight me too. We had coffee, had a very amenable chat and then went home – my brother took mum back to the flat and we said we’d see them the next day – 22nd November – Funeral day.

Once home it took a while but eventually I set my cover, sent out various emails, shared Google Docs and about 9pm sent my brother the final version of the Eulogy.  Sleep was evasive that night and I felt very stressed.  Stressed about setting cover and stressed about what was to come the next day.

Funeral day – my youngest son and fiancee were home, as was my daughter who’d put together a great presentation of family photos.  They were going to make their own way to Weston Mill Crem. At 10.45am Nick and I drove up to mum and dad’s flat, met my brother, sister in law, nephew and niece and waited.  Mum was stressed and couldn’t find her keys, I couldn’t find my phone… we calmed down and found everything.  My friends came to pick up my niece and nephew and that was that, the 5 of us who were going in the car.  The time started to come round towards midday and my sister in law wondered if we ought to phone the funeral company. No need as the two “fast blacks” (as dad called them) duly turned up.   Mum who had been so stoic became tearful as suddenly it was all terribly real.  The funeral director, complete with Top Hat, invited us out and into the family car – before we went we could see the hearse with Dad’s coffin, the Royal Marine Flag, the yellow roses which he’d always bought for mum, his medals and Green Beret.  We got into the family car and followed the hearse down Tavistock Road, onto the A38 and along the Parkway.  Time was ticking and we had to be there at 12.15pm.  So far the “O group” plan was in place.